Originally created 01/03/01

Hurricanes defeat Gators, 37-20

NEW ORLEANS -- No dispute about this: The Miami Hurricanes are Sugar Bowl champions.

Playing for a possible share of the national title, the No. 2 Hurricanes defeated No. 7 Florida 37-20 Tuesday night, getting 270 yards passing from Ken Dorsey and two touchdowns from fullback Najeh Davenport.

Miami (11-1), hoping for a performance that would give voters in the Associated Press writers' poll reason to name them No. 1, struggled early before finally putting away the Gators (10-3).

Miami won the in-state battle that turned into a Bourbon Street brawl, and now must wait another day to see whether the victory will mean yet another split championship in college football.

The issue of a split title is moot, of course, if No. 1 Oklahoma defeats No. 3 Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Wednesday, in the Bowl Championship Series national title game.

But if Florida State wins, the AP title is up for grabs and the voters will have to decide whether Miami is their champion.

Not until Davenport scored with 4:21 left after Florida quarterback Rex Grossman's second interception of the night was this game secure. Hurricanes' mascot Sebastian the Ibis sensed it, running onto the field and drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

That was the capping moment from a comeback began when Florida went ahead 17-13 on Earnest Graham's 36-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.

On the next drive, Dorsey moved Miami 80 yards in 12 plays, capped by a 19-yard touchdown to D.J. Williams. A third-down, roughing-the-passer penalty by Gerard Warren kept that drive going.

After Florida stalled, Daryl Jones returned a punt 44 yards to put the Hurricanes in striking range, then Davenport responded with the play of the game.

Oquendo-Johnson had perfect coverage and looked like the intended receiver, but Davenport reached over his helmet and snatched the ball away for a 10-point lead.

Another impressive point for the Hurricanes: They won with their leading rusher, James Jackson, injured most of the games and receiver Santana Moss playing with a hurting back.

A few other factors voters will consider: Florida State's 30-7 victory over Florida in the final regular-season game and, of course, Miami's 27-24 win over the Seminoles back in October.

They'll also look at a 10-game winning streak, an offense that averaged 42 points a game and a defense that made big plays when it had to all season.

Miami showed parts of all that against Florida - but also failed to capitalize on abundant opportunities.

A lot of this may have had to do with Florida, an overlooked underdog that came into this game looking to get a good start on next season.

Gators coach Steve Spurrier was at his devious best. On two occasions, he pulled out one of his favorite old tricks, the Emory & Henry Formation, where only three offensive linemen remain near the ball on the line of scrimmage. He uncharacteristically looked toward his running game to provide power, and it did.

When Graham scored from 36 yards on the play after Keiwan Ratliff's interception early in the third quarter, the Gators had the lead and the Hurricanes were simply concerned with winning the game, not the national title.

That's when experience took over and the Hurricanes started looking like champions.

Clinton Portis ran for 98 yards, most after Jackson went out, to keep the Miami offense moving. Moss had 89 yards in receptions even though he was hurting.

Jeremy Shockey, who caught the winning touchdown in Florida State, caught four passes and one touchdown, which gave the Hurricanes a 10-7 lead early.

Miami won its 10th straight since its 34-29 loss to Washington put it in what coach Butch Davis called a "single-elimination" situation.

This was no playoff - that's several years away - but the Hurricanes felt they had done everything they could to add to the national titles they won in 1983, '87, '89 and 91.

This was, however, a once-fierce rivalry that had been on hold for 13 seasons. It immediately regained its fire when the two teams made it to New Orleans. Several players fought on Bourbon Street, and both teams said it would surely add to the fire of the renewed in-state rivalry.


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